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The Box Tops, “I Met Her in Church” (1968)
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With the publication of A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man and my belated viewing of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, I’ve been thinking about the enigma that was Chilton. I saw him once at the Cubby Bear in Chicago during his “Volare”–“No Sex” period, a performance highlighted, if I recall, by his cover of the Rip Chords “Hey Little Cobra”—and one that offered no insight into the man aside from his taste in oldies.

He performed no Box Tops (or Big Star) songs that night, and if he had, I doubt he would have done my favorite, “I Met Her in Church.” (Though did once say from the stage that it was the best song the Box Tops ever did.) While a haze of irony hovers about Chilton and his reputation (e.g., covers of “Volare” and “Hey Little Cobra”), it certainly not what earned his place in music history or our hearts. Songs like “Thirteen” and “September Gurls” capture an unguarded vulnerability—or at least project it. The question, then, about songs like “Jesus Christ” or “The Ballad of El Goodo” (“And at my side is God”)  or “I Met Her in Church” (even though it was written by the estimable Dan Penn and not Chilton) is: it is a joke? Or is it something truer, deeper? Or simply a matter of reflex, instinct, habit—the old-time religion bubbling up from the Southern soil Chilton and Penn both sprouted from?

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